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Hot Springs Street­cars

The Sentinel-Record - HER - Hot Springs - - In This Issue - By El­iz­a­beth Rob­bins, photograph­y cour­tesy of Gar­land County His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety.

Clang, clang, clang went the trol­ley,” Judy Gar­land fa­mously sang about St. Louis trol­ley cars. The “clang, clang, clang” of the trol­ley or street­car was also a familiar sound in Hot Springs. Hot Springs was, in fact, the first com­mu­nity in Arkansas with an­i­mal-drawn street­cars and the sec­ond with elec­tric street­cars.

In Jan­uary 1875, the first two wooden street­cars de­buted, each drawn by one horse and charg­ing a quar­ter for five one-way tick­ets. Soon, two mules were needed to pull each of the popular ve­hi­cles, and more cars were added to the fleet of David But­ter­field's Hot Springs Rail­road Com­pany. With routes orig­i­nally on Cen­tral, Oua­chita, Park and Whit­ting­ton av­enues, and later on Malvern and in south Hot Springs, the cars pro­vided much-needed trans­porta­tion in our grow­ing city. But the cars caused a few prob­lems, as well. Dur­ing the 1880s, the cars some­times caused dis­trac­tions in the streets, for peo­ple flagged down the cars wher­ever they wanted to board, heed­less of the in­con­ve­nience to the car­riages, wag­ons and horses on the streets. The cars also cre­ated clouds of dust, which the city con­stantly com­plained that the com­pany should pre­vent by more fre­quent wa­ter­ing down of the rail beds.

In 1893, the street­car com­pany was pur­chased by Sa­muel Fordyce, S.H. Stitt, and Charles Mau­rice. They up­dated the equip­ment and laid new tracks with over- head wires that pow­ered the first elec­tric street­cars here. By 1900, the pop­u­la­tion of 10,000 was mak­ing heavy use of the elec­tric street­cars, which con­tin­ued to be a source of dust clouds un­til Hot Springs streets were paved start­ing in 1902.

The “Moon­light Ride” was a popular fea­ture of­fered by the com­pany. A 50-pas­sen­ger car, decked out with brightly colored lights, would pick up pas­sen­gers on Whit­ting­ton and fol­low the rails un­til the last pas­sen­gers were ready to go home. Clubs and church groups filled th­ese spe­cial evening cars, and some­times bands were aboard to ser­e­nade the pas­sen­gers. And each rac­ing sea­son, a fleet of street­cars was as­signed to ferry rac­ing fans to Oak­lawn Park.

When the 60-block fire of 1913 de­stroyed the elec­tric power plant, Hot Springs seemed to be with­out public trans­porta­tion at a crit­i­cal mo­ment. How­ever, mules were quickly brought back to pulls the cars while the power plant was re­built and the power lines re­placed.

The pop­u­lar­ity of the au­to­mo­bile and the na­tion­wide trend to im­ple­ment bus sys­tems fi­nally doomed the elec­tric street­car. On Oct. 16, 1938, the elec­tric street cars were of­fi­cially re­tired as eight 21 pas­sen­ger au­to­mo­tive buses went into ser­vice. The trol­ley tracks were even­tu­ally re­moved. An era had passed, and Hot Springs streets no longer echoed with the “clang, clang, clang” of the trol­ley.

Above, a street­car comes down Cen­tral Av­enue to­ward Bridge Street, early 1900s.

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